Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Unrequited Love - Pennisetum macrourum

Pennisetum macrourum (African Feathergrass)

Last fall my partner and I went on a vacation to Montreal and Quebec City. During our stay in Montreal, I somehow managed to persuade (or maybe trick) him and his friend we were staying with to go to the Montreal Botanical Garden. The garden is worthy of its own post (which I will do someday), but especially noteworthy was one plant I noticed and immediately fell in love with...the above Pennisetum. Tall and airy, it was used in several plantings. It added not only height, but wonderful movement...and due to it's open, airy nature, didn't seem unduly bulky, nor did it obscure or overwhelm neighboring plants.

We visited in the afternoon, which of course is the best time for viewing grasses. The angled sun suffused each bloom with glowing light. I love how long and slender the flowers are, they have a casual elegance I found breathtaking. It was the start...I wanted it...I REALLY wanted it! I searched for a while after we got back to PDX, but without any luck...I found a few articles about it, but no one seemed to be carrying them for sale.

This spring, however, I met a fellow blogger, Ryan Miller, who talked about Plant World Seeds on his blog, gnomiscience. The plants he bought all sounded very interesting, not to mention out of the ordinary...a combination that would cause the ears of any serious gardener to prick up! I immediately jumped to their website, not looking for anything in particular, just browsing. I was practically drunk with delight, you know the feeling when you discover a new nursery with tons of plants that you are unfamiliar with...sensory overload!

Of course, being a grass junkie, I eventually ended up on their Grasses section. Guess what...there was the Pennisetum macrourum I'd been lusting over all winter. Happy ending...right! Not quite. I had my wallet open and was ordering when I thought "hmmmm, seems too good to be true...better check the hardiness". From what I gather, its only ardy to zone 9 :-( During my research, I also discovered its listed as an invasive species in some areas (although I'm guessing only the areas it's actually hardy in...unless its seed are much tougher.

Anyway...I'm putting this out there to my fellow bloggers (especially my fellow PNW and Zone 8 gardeners), have you any experience with this grass? Is it hardy for you...is it a pest?


  1. I feel your pain! Time and time again I fall in love with a plant only to learn it's not hardy in zone 8. Too bad this Pennisetum isn't as easy to find as that Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' available so cheap (and everywhere) you can grow it as an annual. But then maybe that's part of why you lust for it, because it's rare. (sorry I am no help)

  2. I'm a grass noob and not any help either, but I'm commenting early so I can subscribe to comments and see what everyone says.

    I suppose that once you had seed you could continually produce plants to use as annuals year after year, but that sounds like a serious pain in the ass without lots of greenhouse space and some interns to do all the hard work.

  3. If I can overwinter zone 6 plants in zone 5, you can overwinter zone 9 in zone 8. :p If not, shouldn't be too hard to save seed and start a couple every year. Give it a try, what's the worst thing that happens? It takes over the yard.

  4. I am in zone 5b, so I can't help you, but, like the Plant Geek, I can sometimes grow zone 6 plants. I haven't been much of a grass fan, either, but since my non-gardening husband had to have some, I've grown to like them OK.

    Thanks for your comment on my herb garden post. I think chives and salad burnet would look good tucked into spots at your place. I also have herbs here and there in my flower beds.

  5. Sorry Scott ~ have not come across this one before so can't proffer an opinion. I would give it a whirl if you really like it. It is certainly most striking. I have spent a long time lingering at Plant World Seeds too :)

  6. It looks like a lovely grass but I know nothing, so I think you should try it and collect the seed in fall. And it might just overwinter. If not, I guess that takes care of the invasive issue, though...

  7. p.s. Any idea what those big, blowsy bright green things are with the pennisetum in the second pic? Looks cool, like parsley on steriods!

  8. This is a new one to me. It will be interesting to see if it becomes as ubiquitous as some of the other Pennisetums. I'd definitely get one. Great photos.

  9. Heronswood and Kieft Seed both list Pennisetum macrourum 'White Lancer' as hardy to Z6. Having thought about it, the Z9 listing may be overly pessimistic as a ton of South African plants are hardy to Z7, many Z6, and some even Z5. Depends on the provenance of the seed in this case I would guess. It isn't found just in S. Africa, it's found throught Africa as well as Yemen. Interestingly Kieft lists the germination and growing temps to be fairly cool, 64-68F for germ and 60-64F for growing. Those are pretty low temps for a tropical warm-season grass. Perfect for starting in the house ;) More support to go for it!

  10. Danger: I know you feel my pain ;-) I had thought that about 'Rubra' as well...really nurseries...that's the ONLY one your going to sell...REALLY!

    Ryan: That's kind of what I was thinking too...if only I could add on a greenhouse/nursery wing to the house :-)

    Plant Geek: So true...I had better not complain too much!

    Sue: Thanks for stopping by...I'm totally getting some chives in the garden this year...I don't know what I was waiting for!

    Anna: Isn't their site great...oh, to be a rich man with a large estate...sigh!

    MulchMaid: Totally...I just need to buck up and try it...it's not like I've never lost a plant before :-) Oh, and I think you might be right about that parsley plant...I actually thought it might be a form of Kale...the garden seemed to have about a million different varieties of Kale...and I actually may be a Kale convert now...I had never really cared for them before.

    Grace: I hope so...it's so strange it's not readily available here!

    Plant Geek: I think you are totally right...right after I posted this, I was browsing through a new grass book at Powells (a local book store) and found an entry for this grass...a first! It actually states it's hardy to zone 7 (so zone 6 seems like an easy stretch). I couldn't believe it...I kinda felt silly...but hey, I had the worst time finding any sort of info that seemed definitive at the time! I'm totally going to get the seed and see what happens...thanks for the research...you rock!

  11. Lol~ Hey Scott, I was doing research on "pennisetum macrourum" and stumbled across your blog~ :) Funny, since your pin got me started thinking about adding this to our yard... Did you ever find one to add to your yard?

  12. Hi Julie...glad you found your way here :-) I actually DID finally find some...amazingly, from a local source here, Wind Dancer Garden just south of Portland. The owner told me she grew they from seed, and it only took 2 years for them to get 5' tall! I've seen them listed in a few places since then...but usually are out of stock. I'm not sure if Wind Dancer ships to wherever you live, but it would be worth a try! Plant World Seeds also still lists seed available (or if you want to try seed, I can send you some from my plants...they seed heads are still intact (believe it or not)! Let me know :-)
    BTW...here are the other links about Pennisetum marcrourum...the first from the Garden Show where I found it, the second about my trip to the nursery for more!

  13. Hi Scott~ Thanks for the great links ~ your site is fantastic! Thank you too for your kind offer~ I would love to try some seeds if it's not too much trouble~ :) Do you want me to send you a SASE? Maybe we could trade seeds? :) Let me know what you think! BTW, do you start any of your perennials indoors? We are using a grow light this year for the first time~ :) fingers crossed that it goes well!

    1. Hi Julie! No need for the SASE...just send me your address (scottweberpdx@gmail.com) and I'll send them off...I went out last weekend and gathered up the seed heads that were still intact. I hope they germinate for you...they really are lovely :-)

    2. Oops...I'm such a dork...hit "Publish" too soon! I have grown a few of them inside...just in a sunny windowsill. I don't always have the best luck...but it sure saves $$$!

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